OLUCHI ARINZE is the managing director, Kirkwood Properties Limited, who left her job as a banker and pursued what she says is her passion in real estate where, undoubtedly, she has made some mark. In this interview with CHUKA UROKO, Property Editor, she offers insights on investing in real estate, highlighting the opportunities and challenges in the business. Arinze also speaks on her role as people’s-manager and shares her experience as CEO in a male-dominated field. Excerpts:
Beyond your name, what else would you like to share; tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a graduate of Imo State University. I have Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. I also have a Postgraduate Level 7 Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership from the Metropolitan School of Business and Management in the United Kingdom.
I have undergone several short courses as well, in marketing, sales, and leadership from the likes of Lagos Business School and others. I have several years of post-university work experience. I was a banker for many years in one of Nigeria’s tier-one banks.
While I worked, I gained extensive insight into areas such as product development and management, strategic planning and management, and people management and development prowess. I understood how to multi-task and deliver on targets. I also learned useful soft skills in running an organization.
What has been your experience since you became MD of Kirkwood?
I have gotten better at people management and leadership. The course I took also helped me. I put it into practice in my day-to-day running of the company. I work with people every day. From the educated to the uneducated ones; I manage people. I have been able to identify my target market, and have been able to ascertain their preferred location, preferred property types and, of course, focused on chandelling my energy to meeting and exceeding the expectations of our clients.
You had a stint in banking sector. Why did you leave banking and veered into real estate?
My fascination with real estate started when I was a child and watched my father invest and acquire properties. He also never failed in educating us on the need and benefits that came with it. Luckily, I got married to a conscientious entrepreneur, a renowned real estate business investor too. This was what eventually fueled my passion to move from banking to real estate. My husband became my role model. He taught me practically all I needed to know and all I needed to be successful in this male-dominated industry. He is the Chairman of Kirkwood Properties Limited. He still guides all of my investment decisions and the reward has been huge.
How has your experience as an ex-banker impacted your real estate business?
I learnt that no experience is a waste. My banking experience thought me dedication, discipline, hard work, resilience and, above all, people management and exceptional customer service skills. I also learnt investment skills and how to access banking facilities. These have, undoubtedly, come in handy in satisfying my customer’s needs and expectations.
Properties are pretty expensive in the major cities, especially Lagos. A lot of Nigerians feel that real estate developers charge exorbitantly and are driven only by profit. Some Nigerians think this is limiting real estate growth and also denying average Nigerians opportunity of owning properties. How correct is that?
I understand and appreciate how those categories of potential investors feel. But quite frankly, it’s not the making of real estate developers. For me, my joy is to see people buy my properties. As much as possible, I build pocket-friendly properties and my clients are excited about most of my offerings. However, the business environment is very hostile for real estate players. Land is pretty expensive, but even beyond the costs, there is so much red-tapism from government officials. These cost you more money.
There is also the high cost of funds from banks and other lenders. You borrow at over 25 percent interest rate and a very short repayment period, What do you do with the banks breathing down your neck? The cost of building materials keeps rising due to rising cost of foreign exchange. You also need to pay for labour and indeed pay the local communities as well. So, if you aggregate all of these costs, you would appreciate why properties are highly valued.
So, sometimes we just sell to recover our cost plus a little margin. But I will rather encourage people to get involved in real estate. The value of property in Nigeria increases quite significantly over time. When you get into real estates, it gives you the opportunity to benefit from the capital invested in that property. It’s tangible. Real estate is physical; it’s there, and you see it appreciating. It’s a source of steady income. There’s nothing like a business running on autopilot. In real estate business when you deliver good value your customers do the marketing for you.
Talking about forex, how is its cost, especially the US Dollars, impacting real estate business?
The US Dollar impacts almost every business we do here. We source materials abroad and we need Dollars to buy and ship. So, as the Dollar appreciates against the Naira, cost of the imported materials also goes up and these impact on the value of the property. Again, the dollar volatility impacts our planning and projections. These also impact our business. So, the move to have a unified exchange rate regime would be a huge blessing to the industry as we can plan and make long term projections.
We have a new government headed by President Bola Tinubu. How do you see the economic prospects of Nigeria going forward? Are you also excited about the real estate industry?
I am positive about this new administration. That Nigeria needs to be better is indisputable and I am certain that the present government understands the huge expectations demanded from it by Nigerians at present. I believe that this government will work hard to deliver on its campaign promises.
Inflation has had a great impact – negative in most cases – and no sector of the economy has escaped its tentacles, not excluding the real estate sector. However, I believe the new government is out to serve the people and I presume that was their intention for opting to be elected.
Through service and tenacity and the collaboration of Nigerians, I have positive hope that this administration will foster economic growth by tackling current inflation to the benefit of all.
What are the major limitations that real estate players face?
The challenges are many and interrelated. One of such is being able to get a choice location. After you get the land, next challenge is being able to ascertain that it is genuine, by doing your search because there are lots of scams out there. Then you face the bottlenecks while processing the necessary documentations for the land and getting the necessary building permits and approval.
Let’s not forget, you have to do your market research to enable you decide on the house type that will be suitable for the location. This also is not an easy decision to make. There is also an issue around raising low-cost funds and high building materials. Sometimes if the economy is underperforming, it could also lead to low patronage of the properties.
As a female CEO, how have you navigated the terrain and become this successful?
At first, it wasn’t easy because it is a male dominated industry. But I knew I wanted to add value to the industry. I stayed focused on the value proposition we offered. We developed bespoke properties that gave us space in the competition. So, no one looked at my gender; all they cared about was the value we brought into the industry. The rest they say it is history. But I must say, I never felt limited or intimidated in anyway. I think my training and experience also helped me. By the way, my husband provided all the physical and emotional support I needed to thrive.
What’s your advice for other aspiring Nigerian female CEOs?
Don’t let anyone or anything stop your shine; never lose yourself as an individual. Stay focused on your life goals. Always have a ‘can-do’ spirit.
What are your tips for running a successful real estate business?
Understand the market; understand government policies and regulations at all government levels. Avoid procrastination; be diligent; be disciplined; invest wisely; strive for perfection and you must always buy legitimate land and properties.
What property are you working on currently and what’s unique about it?
We have an ongoing project called Woodland Court Estate. This is a uniquely designed mixed project of fully detached duplexes, semi-detached duplexes and terrace duplexes. It is a fully serviced smart estate located at DPK District Estate, Orchid Road, Lekki. This location is highly sought-after. Then the second one is a multiple floor building, which consists of 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments. This is located at Chevron Drive, right behind the Atlantic Mall, Lekki.
What are the pitfalls that aspiring real estate entrepreneurs must avoid?
Before you go into the purchase of land to start your development, do your research and find out how the market is going so you don’t just tie your money down in something that won’t yield for you by the time you get a property. Also, do a diligent search at Alausa, Lagos. Do a proper search to ensure the land is free from government acquisition.
Ensure it has proper title, and make sure the documentation is in order. Get the necessary government approvals. Make sure you get a competent team and avoid using quacks. Use someone with a good track record. Employ and work with competent professionals and focus only on your own expertise. Avoid the temptation to go for low-quality materials. Build affordable, not cheap, houses, You should be able to differentiate between ‘affordable’ and ‘cheap’.